I stared at The Displaced Ibis in awe.

One of the Ten Commandments is: “Do not covet.” I looked at my friends new painting and I’m very much afraid to admit that I broke that commandment. I coveted. Oh, how I coveted! It was a painting of an Hadeda Ibis. It is standing on an old trunk-like suitcase, an antique looking book and an old hat box. The Ibis definitely looks a little lost. How did it get there, I wondered? Maybe it’s wing is broken and it has taken refuge in an old dusty attic. I laughed at myself. I was doing what the artist, Peter Pharoah strives to do with his art: Make the viewer participate.

The Hadeda reminds me of home for its cry echoes over South Africa. And, it is standing on two things I love – cases and books. I adore travelling and am passionate about books. So this painting speaks to me on so many emotional levels.

“Who is the artist?” I asked, my eyes fixed on this incredible painting.

Grace Kotze.”

I needed to know more!

I contacted Grace and in true Gaynor fashion, my questions were endless. Grace actually spent her childhood in Hilton, Kwazulu Natal. When she was 18, she moved to Durban to study Fine Art at Durban University of Technology. And she has been a Durbanite ever since! How could I have lived in Durban for fourteen years and not been aware of her art? Possibly because I didn’t live near an art gallery and was reliant on my legs to get me places! 

When asked who inspired her, Grace laughed: “Those who inspire me change constantly according to my creative concerns at the time. But Rembrandt will always stay top of my list!”

Well, she certainly chose to be inspired by a Master! She has also seen three exhibitions of Turners work. These changed her experience with paint. Through Turner she realised that paint is not a substance used to get your ideas down on canvas. Paint has its own voice to contribute to the painting’s song. She uses it with freedom and delights in its own particular volume and flow.

Although Grace began painting predominantly in oils, she has now changed to acrylics which she loves. She has also just started working in lino cut. Knowing Grace’s ability, I am dying to see some of her latest works.

The subject she feels most at home with is the human figure and portraiture. “It is so commanding and due to this power it is easily edited in order to just provide its essence. I have started to explore animals in the hopes that I can achieve such brevity of mark and detail. Time will tell though.”

Her compositions are often obscurely wonderful. “All my visual decision making stems from the need to produce work that has an emotional pull. So I search for coupling of objects and creatures that conjure a whimsy, longing, memory…”

Her ideas and thoughts are translated through her paintbrush and paint onto canvas and thus her creations are born.

I asked Grace from where she drew inspiration?

“Life in general. There is energy and inspiration at every turn. The city where I live is full of visual wonders in its buildings, animals and people. The movement and sounds alone create a vibrancy that keeps me on my toes.”

Grace Kotze’s work is created by blending her emotions with what she sees before her. Looking at her paintings, I find my feelings constantly moved and challenged. I have delighted, laughed and puzzled over her works. I wanted to speak to Grace and ask her to explain certain things and express the joy and pleasure I get from them. And then I thought: Hold on, you can’t do that with Van Gogh or Monet. I should rather share my interpretation of some of my favourites with the world


This is what Grace has called these beautiful hands. They entrance and my imagination swirls within. To me, these are an elderly woman’s hands that are used to hard work. They carry a genuine sense of tangibility about them which make me long for a look at the rest of the body.

‘Learning to let go’ 

I stare at the beautiful face and puzzle about the moths and butterflies that are studded on the wall. The person’s face draws me in. I see resignation and loss. The man, butterflies and moths need to let go and fly free.

‘Precious Sparrows’

Looking at this painting, I thought to myself: ‘Growing up in Johannesburg, my world was filled with sparrows. Living in George, I hardly ever see them. Don’t sparrows like the Western Cape?’

I gave this more thought and came to the conclusion that the nooks and crannies in houses no longer exist as nesting sites. As a child, we had sparrows that nested in the little crack above our scullery door.

I miss the flurry of sparrows around me. This painting reminds me of how much I long for the joyful cheekiness of these little birds. I love the way they are painted, with broad, defined brush strokes. This makes their feathers appear fuller, as if they have just ruffled them.

The Pigeon and the Chinese Dragon Bowl 

This is another one of Grace’s ‘whimsical coupling’ paintings. I love the combination of still life and real life. I look at the vibrant colours in this work and smile. The impossibility of a pigeon sitting on the rim of this fine, delicate bowl! How perfectly the blue silk ribbon floats across the Chinese dragon. The colours and intriguing content of this painting make my spirit sing.

The Journey 

The unusual components of this painting fascinate me. It’s as if the contents of the oil-can has been used initially to create the background for the painting. I love the juxtaposition of Shakespeare next to Christopher Robin, and the incongruousness of a child’s wooden duck atop a pile of antique books. Why is it titled ‘The Journey’ I muse?

I love the way Grace regards her work.

“The most important thing is the painting that follows, not the one I have just completed. I don’t consider the works that I have painted over as failures, but one step closer to achieving something worth keeping.”

Grace Kotze anticipates the future with enthusiasm. What a great ethos for life! We should all learn from our past and continually look forward.


Grace’s works can be seen in George at Cape Palette Art & Picture Framing and in Cape Town at State of the Art Gallery.